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By Carrie Ann Knauer, Times Staff Writer | Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 12:00 am

UNION BRIDGE — People with questions about Lehigh Cement Co.’s plans to expand operations are invited to attend a question and answer session Thursday.

The meeting is hosted by the New Windsor Community Action Project.

NEWCAP President Sharon Burleson Schuster said she learned a little about the expansion plans when she went to the Lehigh offices in August to introduce herself.

Lehigh officials came to the New Windsor Town Council meeting in November to give an introduction on the issue, and NEWCAP decided to schedule a second meeting so people could get more specifics on the new plan.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the New Windsor Fire Hall.

“Our mission is to look out for and protect the health and well-being and way of life in our communities,” said Schuster of NEWCAP. “There’s a lot of people out there that aren’t necessarily represented by a municipality.”

In order to have an orderly meeting that stays on track, NEWCAP has submitted its questions for Lehigh in advance — several pages of them.

Topics include the New Windsor quarry expansion, plans for Lehigh-owned land in Clemsonville, details on rocko transfer from New Windsor to the Union Bridge plant, and the proposed county public safety training facility for which Lehigh is trying to donate land.

Quarry expansion

Lehigh’s Union Bridge plant manager Kent Martin said Lehigh wants to expand its mining permit for its New Windsor quarry after a study showed there may be more useful rock at the site than previously thought.

In the early ’90s, the company announced plans to mine 66 acres of nearly 200 acres identified at the New Windsor quarry site as containing stone used for cement production, Martin said.

The 66 acres were believed to contain a very high grade white limestone, free of common impurities, that would be mined and sent to a Lehigh plant in York, Pa., he said.

However, when mining engineer Joe Risley was hired by Lehigh in August 2006, he brought a new perspective to the site.

The old plan would waste the dolomite layered in between and around the limestone, Risley said. Dolomite is not a prime cement material, he said, but if mixed with such high grade limestone, it would still make quality cement.

Throughout 2007, Lehigh officials discussed the possibility of expanding the quarry operations in New Windsor and keeping the high grade limestone for local use in Union Bridge instead of the York facility.

After running the plans by the corporate offices, the Union Bridge plant officials got their approval and decided to move forward with a plan to mine more stone out of New Windsor.

NEWCAP is concerned about the proximity of the project to the town of New Windsor and residential communities, and the environmental impact the quarry will have on the community, as well as traffic and dust created from the expanded operation.

“We’re looking for something we can all live with,” Schuster said.

Reasons behind decision

Risley said the expanded plan will make more sense financially for Lehigh, and be less wasteful.

When a company uses a mine for a short time, then goes back to it years later to retrieve more material, it is much harder and more expensive, he said.

A full excavation would also allow the company to try concurrent reclamation, a new method of storing the unusable rock on site, Risley said.

Instead of building a giant rubble pile with sharp sides while the rock is being mined, then moving it to a more gentle grade at the end, this new method builds a gradually sloped hill, planted with trees, as the mine is being operated.

The result is a much cleaner looking site, Risley said.

Lehigh is still waiting for a specific site plan from its consultant, but has begun to inform New Windsor and Union Bridge’s town councils of their plans, as well as the broader community.

The company will need to submit a new mining permit application and site plan before any work can begin, and for now, the company is not sure when that will be. Martin said the company wanted to start communicating with the community now so that no one will be upset once the permit process and public hearings do get started.

“It’s one of the most important projects in all of Lehigh,” Martin said.